By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Michael McKeever, the celebrated South Florida playwright, is a rare breed, a writer who earns a comfortable living through his plays, which have won him the region’s coveted Carbonell Award for best new work a half-dozen times.
But he and others like him who toil at a computer keyboard to create stage-worthy prose still turn to Boca Raton’s Jan McArt for inspiration and development.
McArt, a dramaturgical legend who has been to Broadway and back and is renowned for bringing live performances to Boca Raton at her famed, former dinner theater, continues to foster theatrical prowess through her five-year-old New Play Reading Series at Boca’s Lynn University.
The run for the 2017-2018 season concludes with one more production this month.
Each year, four new plays are rehearsed and rewritten over a period of five days. The intensive review process concludes with a public performance in the elegant Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center on the Lynn campus.
The McArt connection has worked well. Seven of the new plays presented during the past five years have either gone on to – or are in pre-production for – full performances in Florida or around the country. One recently opened off-Broadway in New York.
Three of those plays belong to McKeever, including Daniel’s Husband, which was performed at the Island City Stage in Fort Lauderdale during the summer of 2015 and won several Carbonell Awards. Finding Mona Lisa, a production that unfolded last summer at the Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, and The Camp, which opened in December 2017 at the West Boca Theatre, have both been nominated for Carbonells as best new shows.
Citing the astonishing success of her succession of annual dramas, McArt responds: “I love it because it’s creative and I’m making things happen.”
She said her mission with the play-reading project is “to develop new, commercially entertaining plays by Florida playwrights.”
But Tony Finstrom, associate producer of the play-reading series who also wrote this season’s opener, “gives playwrights the chance to bring in a new play and work with a professional cast and a director for five days – rehearsing, rewriting, rehearsing, rewriting….”
“Then, at the end of the five days, they present their new, polished, reworked play to the public.”
Finstrom’s piece, House of Gabor, underwent the revision process and hit the stage before an approving audience the night of Oct. 30, 2017. The premise? “It’s Vegas, New Year’s Eve, 1953. Come join Zsa Zsa and company for a peek at their bygone world full of mink, champagne….and men.” McArt starred along with Mia Matthews, Alex Alvarez, Jeffrey Bruce and Michael McKeever.
Michael Leeds, a Broadway-trained writer and choreographer and a frequent director of plays around South Florida, co-wrote the second play in McArt’s series, The Starmaker, along with Andy Rogow. Together, they are co-artistic directors of the Island City Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
The fact-based production presented Jan. 22 tells the story of Henry Willson (Larry Buzzeo), known in Hollywood as a super-agent. His best-known client was actor Rock Hudson (Domenic Servidio), and the show delves deeply into their stormy relationship and extraordinary efforts to keep Hudson’s homosexuality a secret, even to the point of arranging a marriage with Willson’s secretary.
All female roles are played with passion by Mallory Newbrough, a familiar talent in the South County area, perhaps best known for roles in musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Company, Little Shop of Horrors and Zanna Don’t.
The cast performed strongly in a play that became more tragic as it dealt with Hudson’s cinematic decline, his battle with AIDS and how the news of his fatal condition turned the world’s attention to the disease in the early 1980s. The show also starred Sahid Arnaud Pabon, Jordon Armstrong and Sean William Davis.
McArt returned Feb. 12 to star in Widow on the Loose, a play written by and starring Jay Stuart and directed by McKeever.
The final show is scheduled March 12. A Home was written by Dan Clancy and will be directed by John Tolley. It traces the Reddington family for the 60 years they lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn.
Tickets are $10 each and available by calling 561-237-9000.